Colombia is one of the most unequal countries in Latin America in terms of income disparities. Ironically, it is also the largest producer of cocaine in the world and now personal use is on the rise. This absurd outlook will not change unless the deep-rooted social inequality is addressed. This is the only way to free the country from the drug trafficking business, which only the very few profit from.
The truth is that – according to a recent report by the United Nations – coca crops in Colombia have increased by 171,000 hectares in 2017 which represents a 17% increase when compared with 2016. Last year, 1,379 tonnes of cocaine were produced; 31% more than 2016.
In order to deal with such an increase, the new Colombian president, Ivan Duque, has set as an objective for his government, a reduction of at least 140,000 hectares of illegal crops. He will not hesitate in bringing back aerial spraying with glyphosate. However, this solution is questioned by many because of the harmful effects of aerial fumigation on people and the environment.
Lucía Ramírez Bolívar, researcher for Justice, favours the voluntary replacement of crops as a useful strategy, if it is coupled with efforts to improve living conditions in those regions where coca is cultivated.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (known as IARC), glyphosate in listed as a substance which is probably carcinogenic. And according to reports in 2008 by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), aerial spraying of crops in Colombia is a failed strategy. “Sprayed hectares are not synonymous with elimination”.
Another approach which Duque has promised to tackle is drug use, which is also on the rise and is protected in an incredibly broad and diverse market.
The National Monitoring Centre for Drugs, a governmental office reporting to the Ministry of Justice, points out how at least 520,000 students aged between 12 and 18 years have taken drugs at least once in their lives.
This figure represents 15.9% of high school students in the country between the seventh and eleventh grades and confirms how drug use has become a public health problem.
Of all the illegal drugs, marijuana is top of the list in terms of those drugs which are the easiest to get hold of by Colombian children, with 37.3%; behind it is coca paste (basuco) with 12.4%; cocaine with 12%; inhalants with 8.5% and ecstasy with 7%.
The above is exacerbated by the fact that in the last eight years, 32 new substances have been discovered in the South American country, all of which are typically used by young people.
According to epidemiological research on drug use, the synthetic drugs market in Colombia has widened and diversified. This has also been confirmed through drug seizures and data obtained in laboratories. Colombian authorities warn that it could take an extremely long time to fully understand the impact these substances will have on health.
In illegal drug labs, mixtures of anaesthetics, opioids and stimulants are produced but, in reality, nobody knows the effects these pills will have, including the people that buy them. The authorities are concerned that many people don’t know what they are taking.
For the doctor and researcher, José Norman Salazar, the outlook is not promising and shows that these types of drugs are becoming even more accessible to students.
The risk is that young people “poly-consume”, that is, they take various types of drugs which, mixed with alcohol, poison them and lead to death.
Amongst users of psychoactive substances in Colombia, 87% buy marijuana.
The use of basuco is largely in low-income groups, whilst there is a larger proportion of cocaine and ecstasy users amongst the so-called wealthy. Martha Paredes, deputy director of Analysis and Research at the Ministry of Justice, states that the results continue to show an overall increase in use and a decrease in gaps between men and women.
For these reasons, this issue is one of the president’s priorities: his aim is to break up the drug supply networks.
On 1 October, a decree came into force which regulates the possession of drugs in public spaces and allows the authorities to “confiscate any quantities found on the streets”. Duque has said that “there will be an aggressive crackdown on suppliers, on those that are corrupting children selling drugs near schools”.
The truth is that the confiscation of minimal quantities on the streets has caused controversy amongst different social sectors who argue that their possession for use is legalised by the Constitutional Court.
For many, Duque has adopted measures that won’t solve the fundamental problem with complex political, economic and social ramifications. Some say that the means of applying pressure do not focus on drug users of a certain level of socioeconomic privilege but on those from middle or lower class backgrounds and that the ban only boosts the black market. (PL)
(Translated by: Corrine Harries – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)